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Frisco steam locomotive cab ride

By Angela Pusztai-Pasternak | November 22, 2021

Trains' production editor describes her experiences on her very first steam locomotive cab ride

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View from behind fireman tossing coal into firebox in steam engine on a Frisco steam locomotive cab ride
View from behind fireman tossing coal into firebox in steam engine on a Frisco steam locomotive cab ride
Illinois Railway Museum volunteer Fireman Eric Hoyem tosses coal into the belly of Frisco 1630. Angela Pusztai-Pasternak photograph
woman in black shirt smiles inside steam locomotive cab; woman in black mask and black shirt inside steam locomotive cab
Trains Production Editor Angela Pusztai-Pasternak grins as she enjoys her first cab ride aboard Frisco 1630. Angela Pusztai-Pasternak photograph

My Frisco steam locomotive cab ride came on Sept. 5, 2021. It was a first for me. I knew that it would be fun and that I’d like it, but what I didn’t know was exactly how much. It was a feast for the senses. My photos here may not be great or even capture all of the thrill, as I hung on to a bar above my head with a gloved hand, with my feet just inches from the steps and open side of the cab. In my precarious position, I took as many photos as I could one-handed, but also making sure to just absorb everything all around me. I’ve read about cab rides throughout my many years at Trains, but nothing compares to the sensory overload that actually occurs during one. There was so much I was not prepared for. And maybe you’ll think my words are silly, but I’ll pour them out here, so that I can reflect on it and remember as time ticks on.

My understanding of the feminine nature of a steam locomotive

I was never offended when authors used feminine pronouns to refer to a steam engine, however, I don’t think I ever understood why until this cab ride. Enter St. Louis-San Francisco No. 1630, a 1918 Baldwin Russian Decapod, to explain it all to me at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Ill. What I’d like to present to you here is that I perceive the steam engine to be quite human. In fact, many of the wonderful traits of a female presented themselves to me as I rode this steam engine for the first time. Like a woman, the 2-10-0 swayed her hips, so much so that my boots were pinched by the deck plates as I struggled to keep my balance, reaching a maximum of 30 mph. It might as well have been 79 mph as my stray tendrils of hair swirled about like mad flies in a jar. Like a woman, the locomotive makes all sorts of beautiful sounds as she negotiates her way to her destination.

view from behind steam engineer in baseball cap at throttle
Illinois Railway Museum volunteer Steam Engineer Ken Ristow at the throttle of Frisco 1630. Angela Pusztai-Pasternak photograph

Sensory overload for my Frisco steam locomotive cab ride

The sounds of the rails, the tossing of the coal, the rhythm of movement, the communication between the engineer and fireman, the open-close of the Butterfly fire doors, the sound of the whistle, they all filled me to the point where there was no other room for any other thoughts. Like a woman, the 2-10-0 filled her cab with an intoxicating scent of burning coal mixed with the steam and fresh countryside air. For a few moments, amidst the rhythmic sway, my eyes became transfixed by the cornfields seemingly matching the graceful movements of the engine and its train. As I faced the tender for a reverse move, the coal dust whipped about, sending scratchy cinders into my eyes. As I blinked them out, it was like taking photos with my memory bank. The peek-a-boo movement of the fire doors emitted instant heat into the cab, warming your skin, fervent and satisfying, like a woman. The fire and water are deep in her soul. Each steam locomotive is unique, messy, and beautiful, special in its own way, like a woman.

streetcar and passengers pass on adjacent track to steam passenger train
It’s a busy day at the Illinois Railway Museum as passengers from the steam train pass by passengers riding a streetcar. Angela Pusztai-Pasternak photograph

Thanks to those who keep steam engines running

Special thanks to Illinois Railway Museum volunteer Ken Ristow for his superior engineer skills and such an amazing ride — a heck of a way to celebrate my 20th anniversary with Trains, a brand I love. Thanks, too, to Illinois Railway Museum volunteer Ray Weart who relinquished the reins to the 1630 to Ken; and Eric Hoyem, the friendly fireman who kept her belly full. And, my deep gratitude to the centenarian, Frisco 1630, and its crew for keeping her running, for the pleasure of all the museum visitors.

4 thoughts on “Frisco steam locomotive cab ride

  1. I remember my first cab ride in 4501 from Toccoa to Atlanta GA some 45 years ago. An experience to be remembered.

  2. I have hand-bombed a few smaller steamers and recently had the opportunity to fire N&W 611. Being that 611 has a stoker, it’s an entirely different animal, but the thrill and the sights sounds and smells we’re all still there. My wife joined me in the jumpseat for the occasion, and just seeing the look on her face the whole time was a heartwarming sight to behold. When we got out of the cab, she had tears in her eyes. She looked at me and said, “I have cinders in my eyes.” And that’s how she learned it wasn’t for her lol.
    I love the way you described your experience. It really is a feminine machine, and those metaphors and similes really do invoke feelings in the soul.

  3. Thank you for a uniquely descriptive account. I felt like I was there with you. Congratulations, and well done for your 20 years at Trains.

  4. An interesting and entertaining article. I believe the “streetcar” is actually an interurban car from the “Roarin’ Elgin,” the Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad (CA&E)–the smoke and steam may have clouded your vision. `

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